Beto O’Rourke Says Vanity Fair Cover Reinforced ‘Perception of Privilege’

WASHINGTON — Former Representative Beto O’Rourke attempted to revive his flagging presidential campaign on Tuesday, saying his failure to acknowledge the advantages of running for president as a white man who has led a life of relative privilege was a mistake.

Appearing on ABC’s “The View,” Mr. O’Rourke said his statements about his wife and his decision to begin his 2020 bid with a glossy photo shoot in Vanity Fair reinforced “the perception of privilege” that has dogged his campaign during its early weeks — prompting criticism even from his own wife that his comments “sounded flip.”

“I have my work cut out for me to be a better person and ensure that I’m more mindful to the experiences that others have had,” he said. “No one is born to be president of the United States of America, least of all me.”

Beto O’Rourke on criticisms of his ‘Vanity Fair’ “born to be in it” remark: “I was attempting to say that I felt my calling was in public service — no one is born to be President of the United States of America.”

“I have a lot to learn, and I still am.”

Mr. O’Rourke’s appearance was part of an effort by the former Texas congressman to reset his campaign, which has struggled to maintain the kind of energy that built a national following for his unsuccessful Senate run last year. Since former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. entered the race, Mr. O’Rourke’s polling has plummeted into the low single digits both in national surveys and in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Part of his shifting approach involves re-embracing the national media, a tacit admission that this primary is taking place as much on television and social media as it is at the town halls and coffee shop visits that he live-streamed in his Senate campaign and that he assumed would translate in the presidential race. He appeared on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show Monday night and has plans to participate in a CNN televised town hall in Iowa this month.

[Check the election calendar: The first debate is next month.]

During a campaign swing through New Hampshire last week, Mr. O’Rourke said he was starting to feel “more comfortable” with the rhythms of a national campaign.

“You really don’t know what to think until you’re in,” he said after a town-hall meeting in New London on Friday. “This is unlike anything else that one could possibly do.”

Mr. O’Rourke has taken other steps to professionalize his operation. He has been boning up on policy ahead of the first Democratic debate in June. Last month, he released his first policy plan, a $5 trillion proposal to combat climate change. On Monday, Mr. O’Rourke held his first major fund-raiser of the campaign, appearing with supporters in New York City.

His campaign manager, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, moved down to his El Paso headquarters this month and has installed Jeff Berman to run Mr. O’Rourke’s delegate strategy. Both Ms. O’Malley Dillon and Mr. Berman are veterans of former President Barack Obama’s campaigns.

Two of the top advisers who worked on the staff of Mr. O’Rourke’s relatively small Senate campaign, Becky Bond and her deputy, Zack Malitz, left his presidential operation last month.

Mr. O’Rourke played down the changes to his operation, telling reporters in New Hampshire that he was simply building out a bigger team, rather than completely revamping the style of his Texas campaign.

“Nothing about the fundamentals of this, or my approach, or who I am has changed,” he said.

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